In the world of automation, many manufacturers brand label products. It is sometimes essential to round out a line based on sheer cost of development and also cost of manufacture. In the early 90s, I tried to develop my own DC drive to run large mill motors.  It featured a constant armature voltage fed from an MG set, and the drive was variable field control that changed the speed via field weakening. The result was underwhelming! I vividly remember speaking to an engineer at ABB about the development process and was reminded that the drives created by ABB take more than 100 labor-years of development before they are market-ready. My lackluster results were from a drive I crafted in less than 3 months. Humility proceeded.

The cost to manufacture low cost motor control products come in two specific types. A company can build a plant in Asia (or elsewhere) where the labor costs are the low, yet they own the quality assurance and the manufacturing techniques. The other type is to privately label finished units from a third party like Delta, Tian, Invertek and others. The difference comes down to quality assurance.

In Asia, it is not uncommon to have workers housed in dormitories, where they work just a few months to gain enough money so they can return to their home community, which is agricultural. This creates a cyclical rotation of workers where quality assurance training and processes are harder to keep consistent. If there is a problem, investigation and resolution is more difficult based on retention. The brand owner has a greater challenge investigating and solving the problem as it is implemented through a third party—who has no real vested interested in the brand.

For the sake of our legal department, I’ll refrain from labeling something as “exactly the same”— so I will utilize “very similar”.  There are plenty of others that I’m leaving off this shortened list:

  • Rockwell very similar to Danfoss (Vacon), Delta Electronics, Gefran (DC Drives)
  • GE very similar to Danfoss (Vacon)
  • Cutler Hammer very similar to Danfoss (Vacon), Delta Electronics
  • Teco very similar to Tian
  • Automationdirect very similar to Delta Electronics
  • Kaman very similar to Invertek
  • ABB and Siemens – Over the years we have seen some other brands come in and out to round out their lines, but for the most part, this is not the norm.

Parts of this gets a little blurry with some of the Asian-based drive companies. If you look at the boards you can see similarities to each other. Hitachi, Yaskawa, Mitsubishi, Fuji and others all look like the 1990 Toshiba design.

The reality of 2018 is that there are very few innovative AC Drive companies left in the world. If you look at Rockwell, they have not made their own complete drive since the 1990s. They base everything on their PLC and the ability to integrate their other devices into that system. There is no argument that this method has been successful, but from a design perspective, it leaves the question of performance and quality open to criticism.

I wish there were consumer laws that require brands to declare items that they do not manufacture themselves. This is why companies like Rockwell and Automationdirect have such similarities with just a PLC and some HMIs that they make themselves. This would expose them as simply distributors that sell all of their other items with double mark-ups.  I mean you cannot say a contactor made by Sprecher & Schuh can connect to a PLC in any technologically savvy way.

C. Tolbert DOE